Anime has been around for a long time and, for every mega-hit like My Hero Academia or Demon Slayer comes just twice as many series of equal quality, but half the recognition. Some of the most overlooked anime are those from decades past, especially from right at the turn of the century. What sets these overlooked gems apart from other anime is how they exemplify or even push the limits of their genre, as well as their general high quality.
Thankfully, fans today can easily enjoy these underrated shows, with most if not all anime streaming services providing them in their entirety. Here's a look at some of the best yet most forgotten anime that deserve a chance to be seen.
Originally releasing in 1977, Voltes V was a breakthrough series in several ways. The anime followed a group of young adults who pilot the giant robot Voltes V to defeat the invading Boazan aliens, led by Prince Heinel. Though a flashy and colorful Super Robot anime, the show began the move to push the mecha anime genre forward.
For one, the heroes bicker and argue over the correct course of action, often a result of their conflicting personalities bouncing off of each other. The villains are developed as well, beginning mecha anime's transition away from mustache-twirling, two-dimensional antagonists. There are also important character deaths that raise the stakes and make it clear that the heroes don't always get away scot-free.
Voltes V is perhaps best known for being hugely popular in the Philippines, where its abrupt cancellation was the result of a corrupt regime. Since that regime's fall, the series has been played in syndication there for years, earning an iconic status and soon, a live-action Filipino remake. It's currently available to stream through RetroCrush, Tubi TV and Peacock.
Martian Successor Nadesico
The 1996 series Martian Successor Nadesico was as much of a parody and satire of anime trends and history as it was its own story. In the series, the Earth is at war with the invading Jovian Lizards, with the spaceship Nadesico being their last line of defense against total annihilation. Many of the crew members don't particularly get along, however, and have varying personality quirks.
The hero, Akito Tenkawa, begrudgingly pilots one of the Nadesico's mechs despite only wanting to cook and watch anime. A commentary on characters like Amuro Ray and Shinji Ikari from the Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion franchises, Akito perfectly encapsulates what makes Nadesico work. It's both a serious space opera/mecha series and a satire that makes fun of and inverts their tropes. The fact that it's also essentially a harem anime makes things even more interesting. It's available through VRV, Funimation and Crunchyroll.
Project A-ko is best known for just how ridiculous and full of fan-service it is. The movie follows a superpowered schoolgirl named A-ko whose everyday routine is interrupted when she has to suddenly save her friends from aliens threatening to destroy the Earth. The series has homages and references a-plenty to big names in anime, perfectly packaged for die-hard fans.
Essentially an over-the-top action comedy, Project A-ko is a mile-a-minute blast from start to finish and also had several follow-ups. It can be streamed through RetroCrush and Tubi TV.
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Perhaps a more controversial entry on this list is Revolutionary Girl Utena. Despite being a Magical Girl anime, the show has little in common with Sailor Moon. In it, young Utena is determined to become a prince after receiving a mysterious ring from one in as a child. She later attends the Ohtori Academy, where she wins the right to become the fiancee of Anthy Himemiya, a girl who can supposedly change the world.
A subversive anime that breaks all manner of boundaries, Utena is full of symbolism and allegory, making its potential meanings sometimes hard to parse out. Its rather prominent yuri romance was also notable, especially for the time (1996). Though acclaimed when it was released, it's still far from being a household name, especially considering how influential a series it is. It can be streamed through Funimation and on YouTube.
Brave Command Dagwon
Definitely a more obscure series, Brave Command Dagwon is the penultimate entry in Takara/Sunrise's Brave franchise. The story of course involves alien invasion, with the Brave Alien seeking out a team of teenage humans to defend against the vengeful prisoners of Sargasso. Given powerful alien wristbands, the team gains the power to transform into costumed superheroes, all of whom have gigantic transforming robots at their disposal.
The franchise was essentially Sunrise and Takara's replacement for the then-dead Transformers franchise, but Dagwon combined these elements with that of a typical Super Sentai series. The obviously bishonen pretty boy cast were also older than the series' usually younger protagonists and perhaps based on the success of such male characters in Gundam Wing. Sadly, the 1997 series is currently unavailable in English, as is the entire franchise besides GaoGaiGar.